Everyone knows The Princess Bride thanks to the tremendous film adaptation in 1987. I feel as such that I don’t need to reinvent the wheel describing the plot scenario to the readers. I just want to talk about my experience reading this book with my husband and the beautiful worlds that lie within.
I bought this for him in 2013 for Christmas, the start of a read-aloud excursion through some of the more classic pieces of fantasy and fiction that he (or both of us) had missed. We started it in January 2014 following the culmination of my yearly writing project in December. Fast-forward sixteen months, several books, a few bodily ailments and illnesses, a few weekends away and vacations, several weeks in between readings, the ending of grad school, the writing of one graduate thesis, the writing of another novel, a move, a resettlement, and everything else that’s happened since then and we have FINALLY finished reading it aloud. Team Us for the win!
If that sounds like the book was not holding our attention, I assure you that the opposite of that statement is what happened with us. Whenever we picked up the book we were completely riveted, often reading it for pages on end until our voices gave out. We are both heavy fans of the film and, as such, know the dialogue and the story very well. But what we didn’t know was the extras that William Goldman puts into the stories, the narrative spice that makes the book so much richer an enjoyment and, frankly, makes the movie pale by comparison. This is the reason that this book has endured, not just because of the movie, not the fan-culture behind it all. The movie propelled this into super stardom but the book, this wonderful book, is what keeps it hovering among the stratosphere.
Within we follow Westley and Buttercup’s romance as told from Goldman’s own point-of-view. Goldman inserts himself in as a narrative device, an opportunity to frequently break the fourth wall and remind the readers that what they are reading is, in fact, a story that he is translating. These passages can be a bit tedious but worth it as Goldman’s wit really shines through the mundanity of his own life. This system of self-deprecating and humourous self-checks allows us a window into Goldman’s own world; a look at his marriage and divorce, the relationship with his child and grandchild and the book that ties them all together: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure…The Princess Bride.
The story as we know it, that of Westley and Buttercup’s parting and her subsequent kidnapping and then rescue from Vizzini and company, is very like the film. However, there is a lot of character background that is filled out to help flesh the characters into fully formed three dimensions. We get the background of Inigo’s childhood, his education with different masters, and his lifelong pursuit of the six-fingered man. We also get Fezzik’s background in a Turkish circus and his simple approach to life and happiness. Even Buttercup and Westley are more rounded out within their own narratives. The life breathed into these people are truly something to behold.
The edition that I have is the 40th anniversary edition with illustrations by Michael Manomivibul. These add some beautiful watercolured textural moments to the story. There is also a story at the end – Buttercup’s Baby, a follow-up to the climax of The Princess Bride. Here Morgenstern (and Goldman) expand upon the heroes adventures into the beyond; to another flight from Prince Humperdink, settlement upon an impossible to find home (unless you have a giant and a noseplug handy), and, most frightening of all, parenthood. Even throughout this story Goldman talks of Morgenstern, of his failings as a writer and of the parts that he cut out of his edition. This is a constant theme of the book, what Morgenstern added that Goldman removed. In this device, Goldman removes much of his own ego from the book and, as a result, helps the reader suspend disbelief in some of the more unbelievable moments.
My favourite moment of the book came in the scene between the meeting with Vizzini and his poisons and the retreat into the Fire Swamp. I am talking about the moment atop the hill when Buttercup, in a fit of anger, confronts the Dread Pirate Roberts (Westley) and pushes him down the hill. This moment and the build-up of the speech, was absolutely perfect. So perfect, in fact, that it exceeded the moment in the film adaptation. I adored this bit and read it several times. There’s something about it that is hard to capture in narration and dialogue and yet it is effortless and simple and glorious and worth reading for this part alone.
I loved reading this. I loved the tone and the world. I loved seeing the film as I went but also being able to absorb the differences. It’s such a perfect book, a must-read for fantasy fans.
5 out of 5 stars.
– Follow the Reader –